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Interrogating the devil: social and demonic pressure in The Witch of Edmonton.

In its tale of witchcraft, murder, and bigamy, Thomas Dekker, John Ford and William Rowley's The Witch of Edmonton (1621) powerfully dramatizes both social and demonic forces operating within a small rural community. Although a number of recent studies have discussed the play's depiction of the social causes of crime and of the witchcraft phenomenon, there has been less interest in its representation of supernatural causation, which is personified by a devil who appears throughout the play in the shape of a dog and brings about its tragic events. The Dog is often dismissed as a disappointing retreat by the playwrights into superstition, or else is rationalized away as an hallucination or as a purely symbolic figure. This essay contends that to downplay the importance of the Dog is to misunderstand the ways in which skepticism about witchcraft was typically articulated in the period. Reading the play as a demonological study--that is, as a text that attempts to define the boundary between social and demonic causation--reveals the intellectual sophistication of The Witch of Edmonton while acknowledging its roots in the belief systems of early modern England.

My reading of the play is inspired by Stuart Clark's important study of demonology, Thinking with Demons, which argues that studies of early modern witchcraft belief have tended to construct a simplistic opposition between demonology and rationalism by assuming that any early modern writer who discusses the role of demons in the material world must be credulous and retrograde. (1) Clark finds that modern historians tend to overemphasize the importance of the few early modern writers who appear to pre-empt post-Enlightenment thought on magic and devils. He argues that when discussing a period in which almost every thinker believed in the existence of demons that could influence human thoughts and actions, demonological writings must be taken seriously and cannot be disregarded as intellectually unimportant. The problems Clark finds in modern historical scholarship are also discussed in John D. Cox's recent study of stage devils in medieval and early modern drama. Cox contests the influential argument of E. K. Chambers that the presence of devils on the stage marks the introduction of secular elements to the drama--in other words, that stage devils are symptoms of skepticism about the supernatural. Cox instead makes a powerful case for reading stage devils as dramatizations of sincerely held beliefs about the presence of spirits in the material world that are the enemies of positive values, such as charity and communality. (2)

Although his discussion of The Witch of Edmonton is brief, Cox's arguments are highly applicable to the play, which features a splendidly frightening and entertaining devil in the shape of a black dog. Despite the Dog's important role in the play's events, criticism of the play has tended to focus on those elements of it that seem skeptical about supernatural causation, while leaving comparatively unexamined those elements that emphasize the Dog's agency in bringing about the play's events. It is certainly true that the play's depiction of Elizabeth Sawyer, an old woman scapegoated as a witch by her neighbors, is one of the most sober and skeptical accounts of the witch craze in the drama of the period. (3) Similarly, the depiction of Frank Thorney's slide into bigamy and murder emphasizes its origin in his fear of poverty and social scandal. (4) Yet, as Jonathan Dollimore notes, while the play places " [an] emphasis upon identity as socially coerced" it also depicts Sawyer actually becoming a witch after making a pact with the Devil, (5) and the same Devil apparently provokes Frank's murder of his second wife. For modern readers, these interventions by the Dog may indicate a retreat into superstition, sensationalism, or even silliness, (6) and the importance of the Dog's power in the play's intellectual framework may be overlooked.

This essay argues that focusing on the social causes of crime at the expense of the demonic obscures the intellectual complexity of The Witch of Edmonton. The dramatists deliberately highlight the two forms of causation in order to stage a debate about the location of the boundary between them. In so doing, they draw on two demonological texts, adapting them to draw their own distinctive conclusions. Furthermore, they use the clown plot, which is usually dismissed as naive comedy, to deliver the play's conclusions clearly and inventively. The play is thus carefully constructed to draw a specific conclusion: it is not, as has sometimes been claimed, ideologically or structurally incoherent. (7) While its conclusions do not always agree with post-Enlightenment thought, The Witch of Edmonton remains the most serious and intelligent exploration of witchcraft and devils in the drama of the period.

I. Social Pressure vs. Demonic Pressure

The Witch of Edmonton has long been described as a play that is unusually skeptical about the witchcraft phenomenon, and it is easy to see why. Despite the presence of a devil in the play, the playwrights place considerable emphasis on the coercive power of rural poverty and the scapegoating of marginal figures by small communities. One aspect of this depiction of social pressure is that the play attacks conventional beliefs about the dangers of witches by dramatizing the creation of a "witch" by a community that needs someone to blame for its misfortunes.

In the plotline concerned with Mother Sawyer, doubt is continually introduced about the veracity of witchcraft beliefs. The dramatists show that the label "witch" has been applied to Sawyer long before she decides to become one; she is initially depicted as a pitifully poor and weak old woman, who complains in soliloquy that the villagers of Edmonton use her as a scapegoat for their crop and livestock failures (2.1.1-13). (8) She says that although she has a "bad tongue," it has been made so by their "bad usage" of her (2.1.11). And she insists that she is not a witch, as the villagers claim, although they are so persistent that she almost believes it herself (2.1.8-10, 14-15). The truth of what she is saying is immediately demonstrated by the entrance of Old Banks, a farmer, who accuses her of witchcraft and beats her (2.1.17-30). In this disturbing sequence, the process by which outcasts are made responsible for the suffering of the community is laid bare.

Having evoked pity for Mother Sawyer, the dramatists then use comedy to mock rural beliefs about witchcraft. When the down, Cuddy Banks, and his troupe of morris dancers encounter Mother Sawyer, they are terrified and react with comic fear. Each has his own method of repelling the witch:
 Second Dancer: Bless us, Cuddy, and let her curse her tother eye out.
 What dost now?

 Young Banks: Ungirt, unblessed, says the proverb; but my girdle shall
 serve a riding knot, and a fig for all the witches in Christendom!
 What wouldst thou?

 First Dancer: The devil cannot abide to be crossed.

 Second Dancer. And scorns to come at any man's whistle.

 Third Dancer: Away--

 Fourth Dancer: With the witch!

 All: Away with the Witch of Edmonton!
 Ex[eunt] in strange postur[es] (2.1.96-105)

The dancers back away, whistling and making the sign of the cross, (9) while Cuddy removes his belt to make a noose, and waves it in a threatening manner. The "postur[es]" referred to in the stage direction indicate these actions, which may include other gestures, such as the "evil eye" which the dancers believe will protect them; the specification "strange" may indicate that they are to be exaggerated for comic effect. (l0) The audience is thus encouraged to associate beliefs about magical protection with credulous clowns.

The existence of witchcraft is questioned again in scene 4.1, in which the villagers test Sawyer. Following a tradition, they burn thatch from her roof, for "they say, when 'tis burning, if she be a witch she'll come running in" (II. 22-23). Sure enough, Sawyer runs in and thus "proves" that she is a witch (11. 31-32). However, thatch-burning seems to have been a byword for foolish superstition: Henry Goodcole, in the pamphlet on which the play is based, calls the test "an old ridiculous custome," (11) and it is listed by William Perkins in his Discourse on the Damned Art of Witchcraft among the "weake and insufficient proofes." (12) This opinion is echoed by the Justice in the play, who protests,
 Come, come. Firing her thatch? Ridiculous! Take heed, sirs, what you
 do. Unless your proofs come better armed, instead of turning her
 into a witch, you'll prove yourselves stark fools. (4.1.48-51)

This episodes lack of closure is probably deliberate, since the ensuing interrogation of Sawyer is equally inconclusive. The Justice initially sympathizes with her, defending her from the aggressive Old Banks (1.60), and promising to ask only "mild questions" (1.80), but Sawyer's response is "furious" (1. 85): she angrily laments her misfortunes, and gives sharp replies to Sir Arthur Clarington. The Justice soon loses patience, saying she is "too saucy and too bitter" (1.93), and by the end of the interview is disgusted with her (1. 162); her sharp tongue has encouraged him tacitly to agree with the villagers. This sequence may be inspired by Goodcole's description of the real Elizabeth Sawyer's trial, in which the jury convicted her of witchcraft after hearing her "cursing, swearing, blaspheming, and imprecating" (13) But while Goodcole describes Sawyer's outbursts as induced in her by God to reveal the truth (Blr), the dramatists give her speeches that invite a more complex response: Sawyer utters a diatribe on the sinners of London and asks whether they are worse than she. Thus, the Justice's subsequent denunciation of Sawyer seems to be inspired more by anger at her satirical jibes against Londoners than by objective proof of her witchery. (14) Once again, Sawyer is punished, not for being a witch, but for speaking her mind about the society that has oppressed her.

The dramatists' scepticism about witchcraft is also apparent in Sawyer's gallows speech in the final scene, in which the role of the villagers in generating her anger is emphasized once more. Despite Sawyer's claim to have repented her crimes (5.3.51), the villagers hurl accusations at her, some of which (such as the accusation that she bewitched Frank to kill Susan) the theater audience knows to be untrue (5.3.21-50). These accusations provoke Sawyer into angry retorts. The dramatists seem to be stressing that her gallows speech is yet another reaction to a provocation that Frank Thorney, who dies forgiven by his neighbors, does not receive.

It is clear, then, that the dramatists portray Mother Sawyer as pressured by her neighbors into becoming what they want her to be. Her behavior is a reaction to a pre-existing hatred, and both the beliefs of the villagers and the attitude of the Justice are questioned and even ridiculed. This depiction of the witch as scapegoat is remarkably congruent with the work of modern social historians, who have shown that real-life witchcraft accusations often arose from the collective guilt of communities who had failed to give charity to their impoverished neighbors. (15) However, the play's revelation of the social causes of witch-hunts is severely compromised when Sawyer accepts the label of witch by calling on the Devil for revenge.

The Devil appears to Sawyer in the form of a black dog, and offers to perform "any mischief" (2.1.156) in return for her soul. Throughout the rest of the play, the Dog performs tasks for Sawyer, and even after the sequence in which the dramatists question the belief in thatch-burning there are contrary moments that unambiguously show Sawyer to be a real witch:
 Elizabeth Sawyer: Hast thou struck the horse lame as I bid thee?
 Dog: Yes, and nipped the sucking child. (4.1.173-74)

In particular, we see Anne Ratcliffe's mad fits being caused by the Dog, who rubs against her just before she kills herself (4.1.203, stage direction). (16)

Why do the dramatists encourage skepticism about witchcraft accusations, while simultaneously showing the victim of them becoming a real witch? Is the play simply incoherent, subservient to the demands of a spectacle-seeking audience? (17) There is in fact a coherent argument in the play, and in order to understand it we must observe the parallels between Sawyer's story and the Frank Thorney plot, which has an identical structure: it too highlights social coercion, and then complicates it with a demonic intervention.

Like Mother Sawyer's, Frank Thorney's sins are initially represented as the result of social pressure. Frank secretly marries his pregnant lover, Winnifride, because he believes himself to be the father of her child and wants to protect her from "tattling gossips" (1.1.3). But his hopes of inheritance are dashed when his father reveals the family's poverty, and begs Frank to marry the rich Susan Carter (1.2.130-45). As Kathleen McLuskie notes, Old Thorney's long speech makes the loss of money "dramatically real" (18) and emphasizes the pressure on Frank, who feels that conflicting requirements are forcing him into the sin of bigamy. Frank soon surrenders to this pressure: "On every side I am distracted... But on I must. / Fate leads me, I will follow" (1.2.197-200). His ensuing tragedy has been interpreted variously as that of a man who tries too hard to please others; as "a consequence of conflicting social pressures"; or as a result of idealized constructions of femininity. (19) But all critics agree that Frank is represented as pressured by his social situation; he is not simply evil, because his crimes are the result of wider problems in society.

Just as in Mother Sawyer's story, this focus on social coercion is complicated by the intervention of the Dog. In scenes 3.2 and 3.3, Frank, now bigamously married to Susan, decides to run away with Winnifride, but as he walks across the fields to meet her, Susan refuses to leave his side. Increasingly frustrated by her presence, Frank asks her to leave, and she again refuses. The tension builds, and at this point, the invisible Dog enters, saying,
 Now for an early mischief, and a sudden.
 The mind's about it now. One touch from me
 Soon sets the body forward.

The Dog rubs against Frank, and his touch appears to generate the notion of murder in Frank's brain: Frank announces, "Then I'll ease all at once. / 'Tis done now, what I ne'er thought on" (3.3.15; my emphasis).

As Peter Corbin and Douglas Sedge point out, this scene raises the question "Who kills Susan? Is the devil-dog the real murderer?" (20) Does the responsibility lie with Frank, for contemplating murder, or with the Devil, for provoking him into it? It is difficult to answer this question, since the Dog's comment, "The mind's about it now," conflicts with Frank's, "'Ks done now, what I ne'er thought on." The simplest interpretation is that the Dog's line signifies that Frank's mind has the potential to develop a desire for murder, while Frank's line is designed to show that the Dog actually provides the idea of murder, and does not simply harden an already existing idea. This interpretation is supported by Corbin and Sedge, who note that the dramatists, at the beginning of the scene, show Frank giving his sword to Winnifride (3.2.104, stage direction), an event that has no purpose other than to demonstrate to the audience that Frank has no intention of murder when he meets Susan. Indeed, even the murder weapon is supplied by the invisible Dog at 3.3.24: although most editions include the stage direction "he draws a knife," Corbin and Sedge point out that Frank's lines--"You see I had no purpose. I'm unarmed ... Look, this will serve your turn" (3.3.22-24)--only make sense if he is surprised to find a weapon available for use (the Doghas either laid it on the ground, or, as in some productions, actually placed it into his hand). (21) Frank is thus a pawn of the Dog, who generates his desire for murder and provides him with the means to perform it.

As with Sawyer, an initial focus on social causation has shifted into a representation of demonic influence. This shift has seemed contradictory to some readers, who prefer to read the Dog as a symbol of the evil within Frank's mind, or as an hallucination. (22) It is certainly true that although devils were considered to be corporeal entities, early modern audiences could have interpreted specific manifestations as mere hallucinations: in the source pamphlet, Goodcole asks Sawyer, "Did you ever handle the Divell when he came unto you?" adding, in a marginal note, "I asked of her this question because some might thinke this was a visible delusion of her sight only." (23) But in Goodcole's text, Sawyer insists that the Dog was a corporeal entity, and the dramatists also stress this: when the Dog helps Frank to get an alibi by tying himself to a tree, Frank is surprised, saying, "I did not think I could/Have done so well behind me" (3.3.72-73), a line that serves no purpose other than to highlight the Dog's corporeal physicality. (24) The dramatists clearly envisage the Dog as a cause, rather than a mere symbol, of Frank's crimes.

There are therefore strong parallels between the stories of Sawyer and Frank. In both, the Dog encourages his victim to act out desires that might have remained unacted, and in both the victim is ultimately betrayed by the Dog, who celebrates when Frank's murder is discovered (4.2.64, stage direction) and refuses to rescue Sawyer from the law (5.1.62-64). As Sawyer recognizes: "All take heed / How they believe the devil; at last he'll cheat you" (5.3.46-47).

In both stories, then, a representation of the criminal behavior that can result from hardship and social pressure is complicated by an intervention of the Devil, who has the ability to pressure the characters into committing crimes, with or without their awareness. Thus, the fundamental question of both stories is, Which is the primary influence? The play's introduction of demonic causation looks to modern readers like a retreat into superstition or sensationalism. But the idea that evil must be caused either by demonic or by social forces is anachronistic. If we consider the play from a demonological perspective, we can see that it stages both social and demonic pressure in order to decide on the boundary between the two, and to decide where the blame for evil finally lies. To explain how the dramatists structure and answer this question, we must look to the play's specific intellectual influences.

II. The Demonological Perspective of The Witch of Edmonton

The Witch of Edmonton has often been linked to the work of Reginald Scot, whose Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) argues that so-called "witches" are innocent victims of superstition, and that devils have no power at all over human minds or bodies. (25) However, Scot's absolute scepticism was far less important to early modern demonology than is often thought; Scot was virtually unique in expressing his ideas, and they had no influence on his contemporaries. (26) While it was certainly possible to imagine a world without demonic intervention, few expressed such ideas in print, and there was no reason for their readers to agree when common sense and received wisdom argued otherwise. (27) Stuart Clark has shown that most early modern demonology is concerned with deciding the limits of demonic power, rather than with debating its existence: some thinkers considered demons relatively weak and constrained, others considered them immensely powerful. (28) This is the debate that influenced The Witch of Edmonton, in particular the ideas contained in the play's two direct sources, George Gifford's Dialogue Concerning Witches and Witchcraftes (1593), and Henry Goodcole's The Wonderfull Discoverie of Elizabeth Sawyer (1621), which occupy very different places on the spectrum of ideas about the limits of demonic power.

At least one of the dramatists must have read Gifford's Dialogue, since it is the source of the "cow-kissing" joke in scene 4.1, but its wider ideas permeate the play. (29) Gifford's text offers a clear demonstration that skepticism about witchcraft need not preclude belief in demonic influence. Like many of Gifford's publications, the Dialogue is concerned with repudiating the beliefs of common country folk, (30) the most pernicious fallacy being the belief that witches have magical powers. Gifford insists that a witch's maleficia are caused, not by her, but by devils. These devils only pretend to be under the witch's command: they are in fact independent and unbound by her orders. There are thus no real witches, only powerless dupes who have been tricked by deceptive demons into believing they have magical powers. Gifford summarizes: "[T]he witch is the vassall of the devill, and not he her servant; he is Lord and commaundeth, and she is his drudge and obeyeth." (31) The Devil's purpose in gulling "witches" is to create widespread sin: belief in witchcraft causes fear and suspicion to grow, causes credulous villagers to visit duplicitous "cunning folk," and causes innocent people to be executed, all of which pleases the Devil. (32) Thus, Gifford does not deny witchcraft by denying the existence of the supernatural; he denies it by reminding his readers that supernatural powers are possessed only by devils, not humans.

Clark shows that the ideas in Gifford's work were common among Protestant theologians, who often sought to redefine popular understanding of the causes of maleficia. (33) While the popular opinion was that the suffering of the community was caused by the witch's agency, the Protestant cleric took a longer view, reminding parishioners that nothing, including the actions of devils, can happen without God's permission. For Gifford, the "common errour" of the multitude is their inability to recognize that "God is provoked by their sinnes to give the devill such instruments to work withal." (34) The cleric asks the villagers to look into their hearts and ask why God has allowed them to be punished; he thus shifts the cause of maleficia onto the accusers themselves. The advice to a villager confronted with suspected witchcraft is not to begin a witch-hunt but to "fall downe and humble thy selfe with fasting and prayer, intreat the Lord to turne away his displeasure: looke not upon the witch" (H[3.sup.V]).

The Witch of Edmonton agrees in many ways with Gifford's explanation of the witchcraft phenomenon. Like Gifford, the dramatists portray Sawyer as a dupe of the Dog, rather than as a genuinely powerful witch. Also like Gifford, they show that fearful and superstitious communities are the ultimate source of the problem, rather than the presumed "witches." (35) However, there is an important difference between Gifford's ideas and those of the dramatists.

Gifford's text does not emphasize, as the play does, the social pressures that cause evil. Despite his vivid depictions of rural superstition, Gifford makes no reference to poverty and hardship, or the scapegoating that may result from them. Social causation is unimportant to him because his work is governed by a rigid Calvinism in which everything is under God's command. Gifford states that since God is absolute controller of the universe, "all the Divels in Hell are so chained up and bridled by this high providence that they can not plucke the wing from one poor little Wrenne, without speciall leave given them from the ruler of the whole earth" (A[2.sup.V]). The Devil is thus "the Lordes executioner" (D2r), and all his actions represent God's punishment of sinful mankind, or his testing of the godly. The dramatists, conversely, place less emphasis on the providence of God, focusing on social pressures rather than on the predestined fates of the characters. This difference between the worldview of Gifford and that of the dramatists can be demonstrated by comparing two similar moments in both texts. At one point in the Dialogue, Sam, a credulous villager, describes a woman who claimed to be served by a familiar in the shape of a cat which "came to her when she was in a great rage with one of her neighbours, and did curse, wishing the vengeance of God to fall upon him and his" (E[1.sup.r]-E[l.sup.V]). This situation is similar to that of Mother Sawyer, who is approached by the Dog after wishing vengeance on Old Banks. Daniel (Gifford's mouthpiece), asks Sam to consider the fundamental question of who set the woman in a rage in the first place: "Did not the Cat?" Sam agrees that "the Devil wrought that in her," and Daniel concludes, "Very well, then you see the Cat is the beginner of this play" (ELY). For Gifford, the Devil--and ultimately, God, who commands him--is like an omniscient playwright, generating all the behavior of his "characters," not merely their behaviour after they have met him. The curses that apparently summoned the Devil were in fact inspired by him, and thus, in an utterly predestined world, the individual can make no independent action--all sins are ultimately induced by the Devil, acting in the service of God. In the dramatists' version of this story, however, there is no suggestion that Sawyer's rage was inspired by the Dog. Despite the play's numerous references to God's punishment of sinners, (36) the dramatists downplay predestination as an influence on the characters' actions, emphasizing instead the social causes of the originary crime, and only bringing in the punishing Devil afterward.

In its downplaying of predestination, the moral schema of the dramatists is thus closer to that of the play's principal source, Henry Goodcole's pamphlet on Elizabeth Sawyer. For Goodcole, the lesson to be drawn from Sawyer's tale is simple: one must avoid "cursing, swearing, and blaspheming" (D[3.sup.r]). (37) He repeatedly insists that verbal sin is "a playne way to bring you to the Divell; nay that it brings the Divell to you" (D[3.sup.r]). In so doing, Goodcole emphasizes more strongly than Gifford the importance of human agency and moral responsibility in fending off attacks by the Devil: for him, small sins such as swearing may attract the Devil, but can be prevented by self-will. The Witch of Edmonton is clearly influenced by this viewpoint, as it contains a passage that makes the same point in similar language. In the concluding scene of the comic third plot, Cuddy Banks, the clown, engages in a Faustian interrogation of the Dog, whose description of his modus operandi serves as an answer to the play's questions about the relationship between demonic and social causation:
 I'll thus much tell thee. Thou art never so distant
 From an evil spirit but that thy oaths,
 Curses and blasphemies pull him to thine elbow.
 Thou never tellst a lie but that a devil
 Is within hearing it; thy evil purposes
 Are ever haunted. But when they come to act,
 As thy tongue slandering, bearing false witness,
 Thy hand stabbing, stealing, cozening, cheating,
 He's then within thee.

This speech separates minor sins from major ones. It emphasizes that although the Devil is "within thee" when major crimes are committed, it is the small, minor sins that draw him toward a likely victim. Therefore, the speech insists on the moral responsibility of the characters: they cannot entirely blame the Devil, because it is they who attracted him in the first place. The dramatists illustrate this point by borrowing from Goodcole the Dog's greeting when he appears to Sawyer: "Ho! Have I found thee cursing? Now thou art mine own" (2.1.128). (38) But they also expand the meaning of Goodcole's moralizing by including the events of the Frank Thorney plot in the Dog's speech: it is not only wicked words that attract the Devil, but "evil purposes," and the results of their attracting power include stabbing, slandering, and bearing false witness, the crimes that Frank commits. The Dog's speech therefore describes a logical sequence of cause and effect, in which the Devil is attracted by wicked thoughts or speech and then provokes his victim into committing worse sins. Sawyer's meeting with the Devil is the result of her cursing, and Frank's murder of Susan as the result of his bigamy (which the dramatists may see as a verbal crime like bearing false witness). This is a system which lays responsibility on the individual will of the subject to defeat evil, and is thus in accordance with Goodcole's warning, "Stand on your guard and watch with sobrietie to resist him, the Divell your adversary, who waiteth on you continually, to subvert you" (D[3s.up.r]-D[3.sup.V]).

For Goodcole and the dramatists, then, the boundary between social and demonic forces is located in the individual will with which the subject may be able to resist the pressures of society. In this potential for resistance lies the only freedom from the Devil's predations. However, Goodcole's schema is simpler than that of the dramatists, for, like Gifford, he does not describe the social forces that influence humans to commit crimes. In contrast, the dramatists, despite placing the primary responsibility for evil onto the individual, simultaneously emphasize the extreme pressure that the characters are under to make the wrong decision. Although none of them makes the right decision, the dramatists' emphasis on social coercion highlights the terrible choices the characters face instead of depicting them as entirely powerless in the face of a predestined fate.

III. The Devil and the Clown

It is a harsh system that the dramatists describe. They describe the powerful demonic forces that prey on those who are tempted, but they also stress the social pressures that encourage such temptation, pressures that seem almost impossible to resist without a willpower that the characters barely possess. However, while the social and the demonic pressures are similar in their effects, they are not represented as equally inescapable. In the midst of the gloom, there is an attempt by the dramatists to offer an optimistic correlative to the two tragic plots by stressing the difference between human society and the devils that infiltrate it. This is the function of the Cuddy Banks subplot, although the subplot is used in a more sophisticated way than has often been recognized. It has been frequently observed that Cuddy's comic relationship with the Dog offers a comic parallel with the other two stories, but the climactic scene of the clown subplot also articulates a fundamental distinction between the evils of human society and the evil of demons.

In a play about cruelty and suffering, it is notable that Cuddy Banks behaves kindly to both witch and Dog. When he meets Mother Sawyer for the second time, Cuddy apologizes for his father's cruelty and offers her money, "to buy thee a plaster" (2.1.215-16). And when he meets the Dog, he treats it as a new pet:
 Well, you shall have jowls and livers. I have butchers to my friends
 that shall bestow 'em, and I will keep crusts and bones for you, if
 you'll be a kind dog, Tom. (3.1.134-37)

Cuddy's "straightforward friendliness" (39) is appealing, and he has often been described as the play's moral center, an emblem of comic innocence. (40)

However, several moments counter this reading of Cuddy's function; his morals are compromised by the Dog just as Sawyer's and Frank's are. Cuddy's friendliness is not purely innocent, but is motivated by his desire for Kate Carter, the wealthy yeoman's daughter: he hopes that the witch and the Dog will help him to win her affections. Cuddy offers to feed the Dog only when it promises, "I'll help thee to thy Love" (3.1.138):
 Young Banks: Wilt thou? That promise shall cost me a brown loaf,
 though I steal it out of my father's cupboard. You'll eat stolen
 goods, Tom, will you not?

 Dog: Oh, best of all. The sweetest bits, those. (3.1.139-42)

Cuddy is happy to steal in order to maintain his association with the Dog, and although it has been said that he treats the creature as if it is a normal dog, (41) he is in fact well aware that the Dog is a devil. He admires it for being able to "serve mammon and the devil too!" (3.1.156-57), and compares it to "the Devil of Edmonton" (3.1.165).

In addition, Cuddy is complicit in the framing of Warbeck and Somerton. The Dog promises Cuddy that a "mischief" will light on Warbeck (3.1.160), who is Kate Carter's suitor. Sure enough, when the Dog causes Frank Thorney to kill his wife, it also arranges matters so that suspicion falls upon Warbeck. Cuddy is delighted when he hears the news:
 There's my rival taken up for hangman's meat. Tom told me he was
 about a piece of villany. (3.4.69-71)

And later, he crows about Warbeck's fate:
 I would fain meet with mine ingle once more. He has had a claw
 amongst 'em. My rival, that loved my wench, is like to be hanged
 like an innocent. A kind cur where he takes, but where he takes not,
 a dogged rascal. I know the villain loves me. (5.1.91-95)

Far from being naturally good, Cuddy is prepared to make deals with devils and see an innocent man hanged in order to satisfy his desire for Kate Carter. When Cuddy pats and strokes the Dog, the audience may not, therefore, see him as a simple image of goodness, but as yet another character who has capitulated to the Devil's temptations. Furthermore, this capitulation is linked by the dramatists to that of the entire village of Edmonton. Typically, a clown's role in drama is to embody the carnival spirit of feasting and festivity, and Cuddy's morris dance has been described as a celebratory moment, in which the villagers gather for communal solidarity. (42) However, the dramatists pointedly bring out the negative side of such gatherings. When Cuddy and his dancers perform their morris to the villagers, the Dog bewitches the musician's fiddle so that it will not play. The ensuing stage direction, "Dog plays the morris" (3.4.56, stage direction), is vague as to the form the dance takes, but Cuddy had earlier mentioned that it would include a witch, played by the village barber's apprentice (see 3.1.66-68). (43) Presumably, the morris involves some kind of dumb show in which the witch-figure is symbolically banished by Cuddy and the hobbyhorse. The villagers apparently enjoy the dance, (44) but this image of communal gaiety is undermined by the presence of the Dog playing the music. The theater audience can see the villagers gathering together to banish the witch from their midst, but behind them, the Dog is playing the tune that they dance to. This is a perfect emblem of Gifford's argument that the uniting of communities against witches is ultimately caused by the Devil, and is in tune with the play's condemnation of such "solidarity" when it is united against a scapegoated outcast.

Why then is it Cuddy, an icon of greed whose dance is an emblem of a corrupted community, whom the dramatists allow to repel the Devil in the final scene with the words, "I defy thee. Out and avaunt!" (5.1.193-94)? The shift is not jolting because in the final act of the play, the dramatists shift from equating the clown and the Devil to contrasting them. The effect of this contrast is to articulate the philosophical ideas behind the dramatists' representation of the interaction between humans and devils.

The change in Cuddy's function begins when he says to the Dog, "Certainly, Tom, I begin to pity thee" (5.1.160-61), and expresses bewilderment at the Dog's behaviour:
 Young Banks: Were it not possible for thee to become an honest dog
 yet? 'Tis a base life that you lead, Tom, to serve witches, to kill
 innocent children, to kill harmless cattle, to 'stroy corn and
 fruit, etc. 'Twere better yet to be a butcher, and kill for yourself.

 Dog: Why? These are all my delights, my pleasures, fool. (5.1.163-68)

The effect of this passage is to demonstrate an important difference between the Devil's amorality and the clown's. Cuddy is not interested in evil for its own sake: for him, it is a merely a means to achieving a state of comfort and satisfaction with worldly pleasures. Cuddy suggests to the Dog,
 [You could] serve in some nobleman's, knight's or gentleman's
 kitchen, if you could brook the wheel, and turn the spit--your
 labour could not be much--when they have roast meat, that's but once
 or twice in the week at most; here you might lick your own toes very
 well. Or if you could translate yourself into a lady's arming puppy,
 there you might lick sweet lips, and do many pretty offices.

Cuddy imagines a canine version of the land of Cockaigne: an easy life in a kitchen full of food or a life snuggled in the arms of a lady. These visions of infinite food and sensual pleasure are utopian ones for the greedy, lazy, lusty clown. But they are incomprehensible to the Dog, who does not even reply to Cuddy's suggestions. His "delights" and "pleasures" (5.1.168) consist in destroying those of others, as he had explained earlier:
 Those that are joys denied must take delight
 In sins and mischiefs; 'tis the devil's right.

The scene therefore has the effect of emphasizing the difference between the Dog, who is actively sadistic, and indeed prepared to undergo discomfort in order to cause suffering in others, and Cuddy, who does not commit crimes for the sake of them, but rather because he desires more comfort in a wretched world. (45) This difference explains why it is not incongruous for Cuddy to beat the Dog "out of the bounds of Edmonton" (5.1.208). The final stage direction reads "Exeunt YOUNG BANKS, DOG barking" (5.1.214), which may indicate that Cuddy is physically beating the Dog off the stage, as promised, in a reference to the Rogation ceremony, in which parishioners would mark the perimeters of the parish in a symbolic banishment of evil spirits, before indulging in communal feasting. (46)

In this scene, then, we can see the dramatists attempting to add a more optimistic perspective to the heavy determinism of the two main plots. Cuddy suffers less from the pressures of his society than the other protagonists, but when the dramatists use him in this scene as the representative of humanity, we can see that neither Mother Sawyer nor Frank Thorney were represented as evil for the sake of it either. The Dog's speeches suggest that he, in contrast, has no external motivating forces: he is simply evil. This is why the dramatists highlight so powerfully the social pressures that assail the characters: they stress that the characters are not inherently evil, and thus emphasise the difference between humans and devils. Cuddy's utopian vision of a world of universal contentment is thus a vision of a world free from any suffering. And in such a world, the Devil could have no influence, for there would be no social misery to push humanity toward him.

IV. Conclusion

I have argued that we must read the Dog as a representation of sincerely held beliefs about demonic influence. The play depicts characters assailed by two powerful forces: the social and the demonic. Of these forces, it is the social that is the most important: without it, it is implied that the Devil would have no work. If it were not for the pressures that drive Sawyer and Frank to their small sins, the Devil would not have been attracted to them. The play thus emphasizes the characters' responsibility for their fates: they need to resist the pressures that drive them to commit their small sins.

It is dear, however, that the dramatists regard the two forces as closely bound in a reciprocal system. There are numerous lines in the play that conflate social and demonic forces. Frank talks of "the misery of beggary and want / Two devils that are occasions to enforce / A shameful end" (1.1.18-20), while Mother Sawyer calls Old Banks "this black cur / That barks and bites, and sucks the very blood of me" (2.1.123-25), and the villagers that bait her "dogs" (5.3.42). These social pressures are equated with the Dog because they have a similar coercive effect. The lines do not suggest that the Dog is merely a symbol of social forces: to take such a view would imply that the dramatists are saying that all evil can be traced to society rather than the Devil. As I have shown, the play in fact argues that social forces encourage demonic intervention; for example, Banks is a "black cur" who sucks Sawyer's blood because his actions are driving her toward the waiting jaws of the Dog. Despite this, the dramatists suggest that the characters have sufficient individual agency to be able to repress the small sins that draw the demonic pressure upon them. In this individual agency lies the boundary between the demonic and the social.

The Witch of Edmonton thus manages to be doubly bleak: it highlights not only the power of devils, but also the power of social coercion to attract those devils. The only release from these pressures is Heaven, in which, according to Frank, there is an "impartial judge" (5.3.89) who provides a final space free from these conflicting pressures. Yet the play also includes a vision of an ideal world on earth: Cuddy's utopian vision of eternal ease in a world where the poverty that causes crime is absent. The Dog rejects such an ideal with the words, "Hence, silly fool! I scorn to prey on such an atom soul" (5.1.205-6). Perhaps we can read into the Dog's words an element of fear: when humans have finally created a utopia on Earth, he will have no more work to do. Silly, indeed. But in the world of the play, there seems to be no other solution.

Dalhousie University


(1) Stuart Clark, Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 3-10. A summary of Clark's central thesis can be found in his "The Scientific Status of Demonology," in Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the Renaissance, ed. Brian Vickers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 351-74.

(2) John D. Cox, The Devil and the Sacred in English Drama, 1350-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 5-18.

(3) On the play's seriousness in comparison with other plays on witches, see Frances E. Dolan, Dangerous Familiars: Representations of Domestic Crime in England, 1550-1700 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), 218, and Diane Purkiss, The Witch in History: Early Modern and Twentieth-Century Representations (London: Routledge, 1996), 245-46. For a detailed account of the play's skepticism about witchcraft, see Viviana Comensoli, "Household Business": Domestic Plays of Early Modern England (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), 121-31.

(4) Kathleen McLuskie, "The Plays and the Playwrights: 1613-42," in vol. 4 of The Revels History of Drama in English, ed. Clifford Leech and T. W. Craik, 8 vols. (London: Methuen, 1976-1983), 172, and Anthony B. Dawson, "Witchcraft/Bigamy: Cultural Conflict in The Witch of Edmonton," Renaissance Drama 20 (1989): 79-80.

(5) Jonathan Dollimore, Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 176.

(6) See, for example, Anthony B. Harris, who considers the Dog a dramaturgical mistake because a man dressed as a dog could not "sustain the essentially sinister qualities that a malevolent devil should possess" (Night's Black Agents: Witchcraft and Magic in Seventeenth-Century English Drama [Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1980], 97). Those who saw Miles Anderson's terrifying performance as the Dog in the RSC's production at The Other Place in 1981 will disagree.

(7) M. Joan Sargeaunt, John Ford (New York: Russell and Russell, 1966), 40; Larry S. Champion, Thomas Dekker and the Traditions of English Drama, 2nd ed. (New York: Peter Lang, 1987), 126-27; Kathleen McLuskie, Renaissance Dramatists (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press International, 1989), 72.

(8) Line references are to Peter Corbin and Douglas Sedge, eds., The Witch of Edmonton, Revels Student Editions (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999). For detailed analyses of the scapegoating of Sawyer, see Dawson, "Witchcraft/Bigamy," 80-87 and Comensoli, Household Business, 121-28.

(9) Corbin and Sedge interpret "crossed" as either "to cross the devil's path," or "to make the sign of the cross" (Witch of Edmonton, pp. 54-55). The latter seems more appropriate here, as it may be one of the "strange postur[es]" demanded by the stage direction.

(10) Corbin and Sedge question whether the dancers are really afraid: "[T]heir behaviour may indicate some form of mockery of her bent posture or even a pretence at their own bewitchment" (Witch of Edmonton, p. 55). However, this interpretation is unlikely, since Cuddy is dearly terrified of Mother Sawyer when he next meets her (2.1.194-287), and, indeed, no character in the play mocks Mother Sawyer: all respond to her with fear or anger.

(11) Henry Goodcole, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Elizabeth Sawyer a Witch, Late of Edmonton (London: William Butler, 1621), A[4.sup.r].

(12) William Perkins, A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft (Cambridge: Cantrel Legge, 1608), 206; noted by Robert Hunter West, The Invisible World: A Study of Pneumatology in Elizabethan Drama (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1939), 153.

(13) Goodcole, Wonderfull Discoverie, A[4.sup.V].

(14) Corbin and Sedge, Witch of Edmonton, p. 13.

(15) Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth-and Seventeenth-Century England (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992), 659-80 and Alan MacFarlane, Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A Regional and Comparative Study (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970), passim. As Corbin and Sedge note, Old Banks's refusal to allow Mother Sawyer to take "some rotten sticks" (2.1.20) from his land is just such a denial of common charity (Witch of Edmonton, p. 11).

(16) It has been suggested that the playwrights are discrediting supernatural causation here, since the Dog rubs Anne after she has already gone mad: see Etta Soiref Onat, The Witch of Edmonton: A Critical Edition (New York: Garland, 1980), 94, and Michael Hattaway "Women and Witchcraft," Trivium 20 (1985): 53. Similarly, Comensoli (Household Business, 123), and David Atkinson ("Moral Knowledge and the Double Action in The Witch of Edmonton," Studies in English Literature 25 [1985]: 431, n. 8), consider the sequence to be deliberately ambiguous as to whether or not the Dog caused Anne's suicide. However, the stage effect of the Dog rubbing Ann, followed by her immediate suicide, strongly suggests to the audience that the Dog is the cause, and there is thus no reason for them to doubt his claim (4.1.187) that he caused her initial madness too.

(17) McLuskie, Renaissance Dramatists, 72.

(18) McLuskie, "Plays and Playwrights," 172.

(19) Leonora Leet Brodwin, Elizabethan Love Tragedy, 1587-1625 (New York: New York University Press, 1971), 169; Dawson, "Witccraft/Bigamy," 80; Comensoli, Household Business, 129.

(20) Corbin and Sedge, Witch of Edmonton, p. 85. They also note the wide range of critical responses to this question, from R. G. Lawrence, ed., Jacobean and Caroline Comedies (London: Dent, 1973), 76, who calls Frank "accessory after the fact," to Onat, Witch of Edmonton, 76, for whom "the Elizabethan audience undoubtedly considered this an actual possession and no metaphorical expression of the evil within Frank."

(21) Corbin and Sedge, Witch of Edmonton, pp. 15, 86.

(22) For example, Cyrus Hoy, Introductions, Notes and Commentaries to Texts in 'The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker' (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 3:238, describes him as "an hallucinatory agent (of the devil or an overwrought imagination, the audience may decide for itself)"; Mark Stavig, John Ford and the Traditional Moral Order (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968), 48, calls the Dog a mixture of "symbolism, realism, psychology and morality"; George R. Price, Thomas Dekker (New York: Twayne, 1969), 100, regards the Dog as symbolic when it appears in the Frank Thorney plot; Harris sees the Dog as a symbolic device "introduced to reinforce the theme of moral responsibility" (Night's Black Agents, 97). Comensoli (Household Business, 129), considers the Dog as a symbol of carnality, rather than as a literal representation of a devil.

(23) Goodcole, Wonderfull Discoverie, D[1.sup.r] (Goodcole's emphasis).

(24) The physical corporeality of devils was a given in the period: Clark writes that "it was virtually the unanimous opinion of the educated that devils ... not only merely existed in nature but acted according to its laws" (Thinking with Demons, 152).

(25) For summaries of Scot's ideas, see Robert Hunter West, Invisible World, 217-18, n. 8, and Reginald Scot and Renaissance Writings on Witchcraft (Boston: Twayne, 1984), 86-94. Harris (Night's Black Agents, 106-7) and Comensoli (Household Business, 126-27) point out that the play shares Scot's sympathy for the victims of witchcraft accusations. However, the play's metaphysics are not derived from Scot.

(26) Clark, Thinking with Demons, 211-12, 249.

(27) Clark notes Cornelius Loos as a writer who shared Scot's ideas (Thinking with Demons, 211), but elsewhere in early modern thought, the idea is raised only to be refuted. For example, in John Deacon and John Walker's Dialogicall Discourses of Spirits and Divels (London: George Bishop, 1601), the imaginary Pneumatomachus expresses the view that there are no devils, only "good and evill motions and affections arising in men" (B[5.sup.V]). Deacon and Walker also cite William Alley, The Poore Mans Librarie, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (London: John Daye, 1571), who notes the opinion that angels are "nothing els, but certayne qualities, motions, and inspirations of good myndes" (fol. 123), and William Perkins, An Exposition of the Symbole or Creed of the Apostles (Cambridge: John Legatt, 1595), who remarks that some think angels are "nothing but qualities & motions in the minds of men" (sig. E[4.sup.r]). In all three books, the opinion is attributed to others, and is then refuted with biblical evidence.

(28) Clark, Thinking with Demons, 161-78.

(29) The play's indebtedness to Gifford is described by West, Invisible World, 152-53; Onat, Witch of Edmonton, 340; and Comensoli, Household Business, 127.

(30) Gifford's interest in re-educating commoners is described by Dewey D. Wallace, Jr., "George Gifford: Puritan Propaganda and Popular Religion in Elizabethan England," Sixteenth Century Journal 9 (1978): 27-49.

(31) George Gifford, A Dialogue Concerning Witches and Witchcraftes (London: John Windet for Tobie Cooke and Mihil Hart, 1593), C[4.sup.r].

(32) Gifford, Dialogue, D[2.sup.r].

(33) Clark, Thinking with Demons, 440-42,445-51.

(34) Gifford, Dialogue, D[3.sup.V]; my emphasis.

(35) It should be noted that Gifford still believes "witches" ought to be punished, but he insists that their punishment should be for their actual wrongdoing--making a pact with the Devil--rather than for the maleficia that they have supposedly caused. To punish them for the latter is to miss the root cause of the events. See Gifford, Dialogue, K[3.sup.r]; Clark, Thinking with Demons, 521. These references are listed by Henry Hitch Adams, English Domestic or, Homiletic Tragedy, 1575-1642 (New York: Blom, 1943), 134-37.

(37) Marion Gibson, Reading Witchcraft: Stories of Early Modern English Witches (London: Routledge, 1999), 184.

(38) Cf. Goodcole: "[T]he first words that hee spake unto me were these: Oh! have I now found you cursing, swearing, and blaspheming? now you are mine" (C[1.sup.V]).

(39) Kathleen McLuskie, "Plays and Playwrights," 170.

(40) Levin, Multiple Plot, 141; Harris, Night's Black Agents, 97; Atkinson, "Moral Knowledge," 436.

(41) Harris, Night's Black Agents, 93; Atkinson, "Moral Knowledge," 436.

(42) Dawson, "Witchcraft/Bigamy," 91-93.

(43) This witch-character is presumably meant to be Cuddy's innovation, rather than a traditional part of the morris; there are no references to witches in John Forrest's comprehensive History of Morris Dancing, 1458-1750 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999).

(44) The constable who interrupts the dance says, "Away with jollity" (3.4.56), which implies that the villagers are enjoying themselves, and Cuddy later expresses his delight with the morris (4.1.285-86).

(45) This ambivalence is also expressed earlier when the Spirit that tricks Cuddy says "We can meet his folly, / But from his virtues must be runaways" (3.1.85-86), implying that although Cuddy may do bad things, he is not entirely wicked.

(46) On Rogation ceremonies, see Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, 71-74. Another reference to the ceremony occurs when Cuddy tells the Dog, "[T]omorrow we go in procession, and after thou shalt never come in again" (5.1.208-9).

David Nicol

Dalhousie University
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